Traces of Gay Courage

I love finding true-life connections, as I did last summer with Gay Courage. Nancy Caswell lives with her father in the parsonage at Sunnyfield:

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Rabbit shutters on Emilie Loring’s cottage

“There were little rabbits with upstanding ears cut in the yellow shutters. Gay orange and white awnings shaded the porches, boxes spilling over with yellow and white and purple blooms, adorned windows without, snowy muslins were visible within.”

I looked through the photo albums of the fellow who owned Emilie’s secondary cottage in Blue Hill for some decades, and there they were: cute little bunnies cut into the shutters–white by then, but surely, originally yellow.

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Emilie and Victor Loring at The Ledges

Emilie’s Dutch Colonial was called “The Ledges” locally, because it sat on a stone ledge, over thirty feet above the East Blue Hill Road. A 1928 home movie shows Emilie and her husband descending its steep, stone steps just as you might imagine they would–Emilie’s step dainty, Victor’s firm.

The cottage was intended for writing and guest quarters and had nearly the same floor plan as Stone House, with built-in bookshelves for summer reading. The interior was bare wood, and above the fireplace was a stone facade depicting a sailboat with full rudder and keel.

That was a particularly fun discovery. Emilie’s architects, Kilham, Hopkins & Greeley, used the same, stone sailboat idea in their 1941 design for the Community Sailing Boat House in Boston.  (I love the whole idea of Community Sailing, so I’m very happy about this.)

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Boston’s Community Sailing Boat House

The Loring family remembers The Ledges as “Calendula Cottage,” which both fits and doesn’t.  The cottage and Emilie’s first, full-fledged gardening novel, Gay Courage, were finished in the same year, 1928.

Marigolds, a gold mine of them.  An occasional tall spike of larkspur lingering long beyond its time as though loath to give way to its rival, purple monkshood, giant masses of it.  There were patches of deepest orange. Tall pink lilies. Drifts of white cosmos, nuances of pale rose against dark greens. Gladioli in gorgeous profusion. Cloud mists of gypsophila. Brilliant color massed in the middle of the border shaded down to cool tints at the ends.

Where Beauty Dwells, a later Blue Hill novel, even specifies “Orange King” and “Lemon Queen” calendulas (along with purple petunias) in its yellow, orange, and purple color scheme. Maybe that is when “Calendula Cottage” took hold as a nickname.

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Along the East Blue Hill Road

But the summer cottage has become a year-round home, and the forest has reclaimed the “Sunnyfield” in which it was built. Blueberries carpet the undergrowth and surround now-naturalized daffodils, narcissus, and perennials. You’re not likely to even see the private home through the trees as you drive along the East Blue Hill Road. But when you pick up Gay Courage, it’s all right there:

“Are you the miracle worker? I remember the Manse as a drab structure, in color a depressing blend of granite and clay.  It had a rubber-plant perennially at the window, gobs of scarlet geraniums on a scraggly lawn.”

Nancy Caswell’s laugh was delicious; “Scorn not the flower-grower’s best friend.  Blooms may come and blooms may go but the geranium keeps on…”

Let’s get to the story…

12 thoughts on “Traces of Gay Courage

  1. This is among my favorite Emilie books! Don’t ask me to choose! I decided to read it (AGAIN!) this week. I enjoyed it immensely and thought more about the characters. I also clicked on the links and was happy to see your post about your first visit to Blue Hill and the photos of the key homes and other places of interest! It helps to visualize. I have to say I don’t often picture the rustic big old barns, but I picture more modern grand houses of early to mid 20th century one sees in movies of that era when I think of the various family estates in Emilie’s books.

    I have moved on to another great favorite, Keepers of the Faith. Hmmm…both books have Nancy as heroines! I do have a grade school friend, Nancy. A very sweet and decent person. I live but a couple miles from her and often see her at Church. I didn’t see her much between high school and returning to my hometown area 20 years later. But we kept in contact via another high school friend.

    Thanks for the context and settings for her books!


    1. I love that one, too! In fact, I recently sent it to a new friend for her granddaughter to read. One of my all-time favorite quotes is in it–“Strangely potent this thing we call, for lack of a better word, ‘attraction,’ isn’t it?” Nancy’s father nails it with that one. Enjoy your re-reads. On to Washington, DC!


      1. Yes, Noah Caswell’s line is THE line of the book! I am reading the hard copies of the books you sent me I think 2 years ago! I ought to think of “THE QUOTE” of each book. That would be a fun exercise!

        Liked by 1 person

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